I’ve seen a lot of shit.
But it seems I haven’t seen it all. By a long stretch.
My feeling on the way to the gym for last nights game 4 of the Polish Championships Finals between Jastrzebski Wegiel and Skra Belchatow was that with both teams physically and mentally tired from a long season, Belchatow’s dominating victory in game 3 would give them enough momentum to win game 4 and clinch the title. Jastrzebski with the help of their home court would gather their resources to win a set at home, but that would be about it.
The first set played out like I expected. Belchatow were strong right out of the gate, Jastrzebie were tired and couldn’t get anything going. Three serve errors and 7!! attack errors gifted Belchatow the set.
The second set played out like I expected. Belchatow were on top for most of the set and and had a 21-19 lead. But three or four inspirational plays from Marek Novotny suddenly levelled the scores at 24-24 and with 2500 spectators going crazy Jastrzebski won the set 30-28.
The third set played out like I expected. For a while at least. After that scare, Belchatow settled down again and at 15-10 seemed to be cruising to victory with little or no resistance left from the home team, except for a flurry of substitutions and timeouts from the coach. What then followed was the most astonishing five minutes of volleyball I have every seen. Rearranging the deckchairs as he was, I’m sure even the coach was surprised when one of them exploded! Jastrzebski went on a run of points inspired by Brazilian opposite Pedro Azenha (on the court for Igor Yudin) who got five!! blocks in half a set. All of them were different, all of them were BIG and each of them get the crowd more and more animated. It was absolutely incredible. Belchatow’s lead vanished amid another flurry of timeouts and substitutions and suddenly out of nowhere, they trailed 18-21. Jastrzebski held on, with some nervous moments at the end, to win the set and to everyone’s surprise take a 2-1 lead.
The fourth set played out like I expected the third set. The effort of coming back in the third took a lot of energy and despite the best efforts of the crowd, Belchatow were too strong. Jastrzebski showed their spirit and gave the crowd hope by finishing the set strongly (Belchatow led 21-11 at one stage) and the stage was set for a final showdown.
And so it came to the fifth. After many changes of personnel throughout the match both teams sent their starters back on the court and gathered what remained of their energy to play the set that would (potentially) decide the championships. The set began with the best quality volleyball seen since the beginning of game 3 and when Igor Yudin ace gave Jastrzebski a 6-4 lead 2500 spectators dreamt of a fifth match on Friday. But at that moment the champions, led by setter Falasca and outside hitter Winiarski settled one more time and for the first time in a month, covering the whole playoffs, Jastrzebski were ran out of time to fight back. After four matches and 17 sets over six days and every ounce of energy and experience at their disposal, Belchatow won their six title in a row and Jastrzebski had to settle for silver.
It was a great finals series. Both sides really gave everything. And then it was over.
The stats for the final match are here.